08/04/2008 11:00PM

Hall applauds class of '08

Barbara D. Livingston
"Horses, they never lie. We might lie, we might kid ourselves, but the horses never lie," said trainer Carl Nafzger.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Carl Nafzger had the good sense to listen to his horses and not his owners. Edgar Prado had the good sense to ignore the opinion of a Suffolk Downs steward. On Monday, both men heard nothing but praise and applause as they were officially inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd jammed into the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on Monday morning, Nafzger and Prado entered the Hall of Fame along with jockey Ismael "Milo" Valenzuela and equine heroes Manila, Inside Information, and Ancient Title.

The audience included 19 members of the Hall of Fame, including jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., who had never before been to the Hall of Fame. Pincay even had to miss his induction ceremony in 1975 after breaking his collarbone.

Nafzger's induction came one year after he won his second Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. Jim Tafel, the owner of Street Sense, made the presentation to Nafzger.

"I tried to tell him how to train horses for 25 years," Tafel said. "Fortunately for Carl and for me and more importantly the horses, he didn't take my advice."

Nafzger, who also trained champions Unbridled and Banshee Breeze, gave all his credit to the horses.

"The horse is the reason we're all here today," Nafzger, 67, said. "You're here today because of the people, the people are here today because the horse brought us all here. Horses, they never lie. We might lie, we might kid ourselves, but the horses never lie."

Nafzger singled out Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud as providing him with the best, yet simplest, advice in training a Thoroughbred.

"Keep 'em fat, keep 'em happy, and work 'em a half a mile, they'll win races for you," said Nafzger, who has won more than 1,000 races, including 68 graded stakes, and whose horses have earned more than $50 million in purses.

While Nafzger was the recipient of a standing ovation, Prado was saluted by the audience with three such ovations. Prado's 6,108 career victories rank him 14th all-time, while his $209,968,439 in purse earnings is sixth all-time.

In introducing Prado, former trainer Bobby Klesaris - who gave Prado his start in Boston two decades ago - told of how Prado would receive suspensions almost monthly from the Suffolk Downs stewards.

"One time a steward pulled me aside and said, 'Bobby, listen to me, believe me when I tell you after 40 years of experience in this business, this kid is not going to make it,' " Klesaris said. "I looked at him, and I didn't know what I was dealing with; all I knew is I had to get Edgar out of there."

So, Klesaris sent a division of 25 horses - and Prado - to Maryland. Prado would go on to dominate that circuit in the 1990s, especially in 1997-98, when he won a combined 1,000 races. In the middle of 1999, Prado was summoned by John Kimmel to ride first call for him in Saratoga, and following a successful 36-win meet he became a New York regular.

"Who knew a jockey from a small town in Peru would be nominated and inducted into the Hall of Fame?" Prado said. "One of my first memories of horses was when I was 8 years old. My father was the groom, my brother was the rider, and I was the hotwalker. Ever since then horse racing has been my love and my life. My success shows that it pays to dream big.''

Prado, 41, acknowledged his three jockey agents and a bevy of trainers who helped him to achieve his success. But of course he singled out his 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, "my friend, who will live in my heart forever. I miss you, my friend."

Barbaro suffered a catastrophic hind leg injury in the Preakness and staged a courageous battle before being euthanized in January 2007.

Prado choked up briefly when he mentioned his mother, Zenaida, who died Jan. 19, 2006, from breast cancer.

"From the moment I left Peru, [she] pushed me forward and told me to follow my dreams," Prado said. "I have to give thanks to her for making me 5-foot-3 and 114 pounds, so this moment could be possible. I know you're proud of me, mom, and I really miss you."

Dr. Dean Richardson, who as the chief of large animal surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center operated on Barbaro, delivered the keynote address. Richardson said he wanted to go into acting, but soon started a love affair with horses when he took a horseback riding class in college for a credit.

"If you love beauty, grace, strength, intelligence, and courage, you have to love the Thoroughbred racehorse," Richardson said.

Manila was one of three horses inducted into the Hall of Fame. Manila, the grass champion of 1986, had been nominated 10 previous times, but never got in. Owner Mike Shannon thanked whoever it was that continued to nominate him.

"Who should get to be in the Hall of Fame for persistence is whoever nominated him 11 times," Shannon said. "Whoever Mr. Nominator is, this Bud's for you."

Shannon owned Manila along with Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., who bred the colt and who was one of the most successful businessmen in the Phillipines before he and his family had to leave that country because of political upheaval.

Inside Information, who won 14 of 17 races, became the ninth Hall of Famer owned or bred by the Phipps family. Shug McGaughey, who trained Inside Information, presented the honor to Dinny Phipps.

"Quite simply, she had the heart of a champion," Phipps said. "For some of her career she was bothered with some neurological problems involving her vertebrae and spinal cord. You would never know it when you saw her run. She had an intense determination to compete and to win. She had stamina, and she had amazing speed."

One of the reasons Pincay was in attendance was the induction of Ancient Title, who won 16 graded handicaps over a two-year period. In 1975, he won the Hollywood Gold Cup and Whitney.

"He was a very courageous horse, he wanted to win - very honest horse," Pincay said.

Valenzuela, who twice won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the same year and who won 22 races aboard two-time Horse of the Year Kelso, was presented his Hall of Fame plaque in a ceremony at Santa Anita earlier in the year. An edited video of that ceremony was shown Monday, and three of his children were on hand to accept the honor officially.